The Philosophy of Restoration

A number of things today have me thinking about the restoration architecture and archaeology. In my Intro to Archaeology class we watched a movie about the restoration of the Parthenon. And I just went to a lecture at school by Mary Beard about the restoration of Pompeii.

My first introduction to the idea of restoration was at Pinhey’s last summer. The house at Pinhey’s was restored by the Canadian architect Julian Smith (who also restored the Vimy Memorial) in the 1990s. This is the part of the tour where I would discuss the philosophies of restoration. At Pinhey’s, a lot of the house was left as it was found. This way, you can see the deterioration over time. The deterioration is part of the story. It’s a story of a the gradual decline of the wealthiest family in March Township. Parts of the house needed to be restored in order to perserve the structural value and to allow it to be used as a regulation public place. But the philosophy of Julian Smith, as with most modern restoration architects, was to make it very obvious which parts were new material and which were original. You do this by not matching paints exactly or by not finishing the wood. So you get an idea of what it would have looked like, but you are changing the original material. This works very well at Pinhey’s, since the family didn’t do any major restorations while they were living there, due to their decline of wealth. At Billings it’s a different case. The family renovated and modernized the house themselves while living there, which drastically changed the original structure of the house. Because of this, the outside of the Billings Estate National Historic Site looks old, but the inside looks fairly new, with white washed walls and such. Personally, I prefer the authenticity of Pinhey’s, because when you walk in the front door you’re essentially seeing what they saw 150 years ago.

The movie we watched in class this morning was a documentary about the ongoing restoration of the Parthenon. It was very interesting. Essentially, in order to keep the Parthenon standing at all, it was in need of a major restoration. But they’ve had alot of problems with it. You see, the Athenians didn’t build the Parthenon to be straight. They built it to look straight. This means that all of the lines are slightly curved, creating the optical illusion of perfection, though it is actually imperfect. They didn’t care about how was but how it looked. Which says a lot about the Athenians. This, however, leads to another problem. Each column is made in several marble pieces. But they are all different, by fractions and millimeters. That means each “piece” of the Parthenon only fits in one spot. They have to be very precise when creating the supporting pieces in order to get it just right. They’ve been at it for 30 years. It took the Athenians 7 years (under Pericles, during the Athenian Empire) to make the Parthenon. And, aren’t we supposed to be more advanced than them? Apparently not. As the documentary says, not only did they have a complex system of measurement but they also had tools created in their mastery of mettalurgy that we can’t replicate today.

This afternoon, Mary Beard was telling us about the Allied bombing of Pompeii in 1943. It destroyed many parts of the ruins of Pompeii, and as a result a lot of Pompeii isn’t an original but a restoration. Beard said that as a society, we turn a blind eye to the restoration of major sites like Pompeii and Hadrian’s Wall. Because we want to. We want to believe that this is our “unmediated contact” with the Roman World. That we’re seeing what they saw. When really, a lot of the restorations, such as that of Pompeii and those done at Knossos by Arthur Evans, are more of a product of what we imagine the ancient world to be. It says as much about our society as it does about theirs, maybe more.

“As our vision of the ancient world changes, so does what we choose to find at Pompeii.” - Mary Beard.

1 Comment

  • By Jo, April 1, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

    I can see you are REALLY into it, Hezabelle!!! : )) Your enthousiasm and will to learn is really amazing.

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